Judge Imbrogno accused of being too tough
February 28, 2013 - Updated: 4:46 a.m.
After being called out last summer by Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich for freeing the suspected heroin trafficker who later shot two deputies, the same federal judge is now under fire for being too tough.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Cynthia Imbrogno was asked this week by federal defender Matt Campbell to recuse herself from a case he’s handling because of what he believes is a pattern of refusing to approve pretrial release requests for crime suspects ever since she became the subject of widespread community criticism surrounding the May 25 release of Charles R. Wallace.
“Those events were truly tragic,” Campbell said, referring to the subsequent June 19 traffic-stop shooting that injured deputies Matt Spink and Michael Northway. “Since that time, however, I, and others, have noticed numerous indications that this Court’s ability to make decisions regarding motions for detention, in cases which have no relation to the Wallace case, has been affected by the events in the Wallace case.”
Campbell asked Imbrogno to step down from the case of Yanoysy Hernandez-Hernandez, a Cuban national who was arrested in Spokane and faces nine counts of possession or trafficking in counterfeit access devices. As part of his argument, Campbell said he’s spoken to numerous other attorneys who have had similar difficulty obtaining release for their clients.
“While cases are undoubtedly fact-specific, the shift in the Court’s rulings on detention motions has been both abrupt and uniformly anti-defendant since Wallace,” Campbell said. “I have personally represented several defendants whom I am confident the Court would have released prior to Wallace who were not released post-Wallace.”
Asked for comment about Campbell’s motion, Imbrogno’s clerk responded by saying that the judge is ethically barred from commenting on pending matters.
However, Imbrogno refused to recuse herself in a ruling issued Tuesday.
“The non-specific affidavit in support is vague, conclusory, and contains legal and factual errors including the representation about jurisdiction under the Bail Reform Act,” Imbrogno wrote.
She noted that during the past several months attorneys have appealed many of her bail decisions, all of which have been upheld.
“This is a validation that this court’s rulings remain fair and impartial,” she wrote.
Andrea George, executive director of Federal Defenders of Eastern Washington and Idaho, said Campbell consulted with her before making the decision to ask Imbrogno to step down from his case.
“It’s very rare,” George said. “Knowing full well she was unfairly tried in the press over Wallace, it was not an easy decision for our office to make. It was done with great thought and respect for Magistrate Judge Imbrogno, who has been an excellent magistrate.”
Imbrogno released Wallace from jail May 25 so he could enter drug rehabilitation at an unsecured facility in Spokane Valley. He had been arrested a month before in Clayton, Wash., on a federal drug charge alleging that he and five others were distributing heroin.
After he skipped out on the rehabilitation, Spokane County deputies began working with federal agents tracking down Wallace.
At about the same time that deputies Spink and Northway pulled over an SUV in which Wallace was a passenger, a grand jury indicted Wallace on five new counts that carried a maximum penalty of life in prison.
Wallace jumped out, shot the deputies and fled. He entered the home of an elderly woman and stole her car, setting off a manhunt and high-speed chase on U.S. Highway 2 and into Deer Park that ended with Wallace shooting himself in the head after crashing into a police car.
Two days later, Knezovich called out Imbrogno for releasing Wallace, whose previous criminal history included assault and gun convictions.
“The judicial system needs to take a hard look at what they’re putting back on the streets,” Knezovich said at the time. “When somebody’s facing those type of serious crimes and they’re a repeat offender, you keep them in jail. That’s the solution.”